Author: Jennifer Hillier
Publisher: Gallery / Simon & Schuster
Editions: Hardcover and eBook
Well-written contemporary thrillers come in more than one flavor. RJ Ellory and Ryan David Jahn challenge and embrace readers with almost literary narrative. Jeffrey Deaver and Brad Thor use pace and adrenaline to push through details and tightly packed prose. Mary Higgins Clark and Dean Koontz use a light touch to allow the reader to glide along story effortlessly. Over time, Kathy Reichs has picked up much of that latter quality. Right out of the gate, that's the kind of reading Jennifer Hillier displays: simple, clean writing that belies a complex and engrossing story so that the pages just slip on by.
Creep walks a fine line which is appropriate for, if surprising in a debut novel. It is at times graphic, at other times shocking, and in some moments intimate enough that the reader might feel like apologizing for invading a character's personal space. Yet, Creep does not feel gratuitous. The reader does not feel manipulated by easy button-pushing, shock jock writing. The characters never seem to wince at their exposure on the pages, nor to be paraded around and exploited. They are simply told boldly and without reservation.
In large part, this is a testament to the greyness of the protagonists. If you prefer your victims clean, your heroes in white, and protagonists on a pedestal, you might struggle with Creep. The book in no way destroys ideas of good over evil; neither does it muddy the lines so much that a hero and a villain cannot be told apart. But the victim is a real, fractured person. The co-protagonist is a real, fractured person. Neither of them make consistently good choices. Each of them makes potentially destructive choices.
And yet they are clearly good.
I think this is one reason that Creep resonates so much with me as a reader. While it is an entirely different book from Michelle Davidson Argyle's Cinders, and I would draw no more than this one comparison between two, I will, at least draw this one: I appreciate the emphasis on choices, mistakes, and consequences. I appreciate the acknowledgment that good intentions and being a good person do not always lead to ideal actions, but that goodness itself is much deeper and more complicated. That, in some ways, it eludes even the heroes. To me, this suggests the promise that if it eludes the heroic, it might one day be attained by the villainous.
Creep is not a cops-and-robbers story. Creep is not a roller coaster thrill ride. Creep is not a subtle and poetic exploration of philosophical ideas. Instead, the Creep that Jennifer Hillier has created is the dark story of Dr. Sheila Tao, her struggle up from rock bottom, and the forces that work to keep her there to their own devastating ends. It is the sort of debut novel that has me looking for Hillier's back-catalog under another name.